Director: James Whale
Writer: R.C. Sherriff
Cast: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers, Una O’Connor, Forrester Harvey, Holmes Herbert, E.E. Clive, Dudley Digges, Harry Stubbs, Donald Stuart, and Merle Tottenham
Composer: Heinz Roemheld (Uncredited)
Release Date: 11/13/1933
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
A chemist named Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) is made invisible after experimenting with monocane—an obscure, highly unstable drug capable of rendering insane those who consume it. Having called upon laboratory assistant Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) to aid in his killing spree, Griffin embarks on a quest for power that not even the love of his fiancée, Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart), can avert.
The quintessential mad scientist film, The Invisible Man provides a resonating commentary on the human condition. Though significantly darker in tone than many of Universal Studios’ classic monster movies (undoubtedly a result of the premeditation and overall malice with which Griffin goes about committing his crimes), this production nonetheless maintains a hint of levity stemming from the director’s overt, though never intrusive, employment of black comedy.
By concealing his “appearance” with bandages and motorcycle goggles, the Invisible Man maintains a mysterious presence following his arrival at the Lion’s Head Inn. Additionally unsettling are Griffin’s ominously vague tales of accidents and disfigurement, which, when relayed by the sinister voice of Claude Rains, serve to further accentuate the disquietude felt by inn patrons and real-life audiences alike. A suspenseful air continues to encompass the Invisible Man until he unveils himself before a horrified crowd of spectators, an effect that remains quite shocking after eighty years despite the primitive techniques involved.
In addition to its remarkable use of atmosphere, The Invisible Man benefits from the commendable performances of an exceptional cast. William Harrigan in particular conveyed the silent torment of a man forced to participate in the diabolical plans of a deranged accomplice; likewise, Gloria Stuart embodied the helpless suffering of one whose former love interest roams about the snow-clad countryside, terrorizing innocents until his actions prompt a fierce and unforgiving response from law enforcement officials. The anguish caused by Griffin’s callous behavior is therefore made credible due to the acting of both Harrigan and Stuart, the respective characters of whom become deliberate and unintentional victims of the Invisible Man.
Similar to H. G. Wells’ novel of the same name (itself a modern retelling of “The Ring of Gyges” by Plato), James Whale’s The Invisible Man examines whether morality is nothing more than an arbitrary construct and, perhaps more specifically, one that people follow for fear of legal or social consequences alone. While Whale’s characterization of the title scientist differs from that of Wells (the literary source material depicts Griffin as an amoral figure even prior to his transformation), the Invisible Man’s decision to act upon his megalomaniacal tendencies when given the freedom to do so nevertheless indicates that, contrary to optimistic perceptions of human nature, many individuals exhibit restraint primarily when compelled by the force of others rather than some internally benevolent impulse to conduct oneself in a civilized manner.
An exciting, if not altogether faithful, adaptation of Wells’ classic narrative, The Invisible Man remains among the most chilling and unforgettable monster movies ever produced. Especially worth noting is that Rains endowed the character of Griffin with a maniacal but occasionally sympathetic quality, thereby adding realism to the transition that defines both his personality and outward form (or apparent lack thereof).
Overall Quality: 10/10
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